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As summer approaches, Newport Beach looks to rejuvenate its pier

Workers dismantle the last wall panel of the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday.
Workers dismantle the last wall panel of the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday. The restaurant, Newport Pier Grill and Sushi, sat dormant since 2012.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It’s no London bridge, but the unoccupied and dilapidated restaurant at the end of Newport Pier is coming down.

Demolition began earlier this month of the 1940s-era building, which has long sat unoccupied since the lease of its previous operators Newport Pier Grill and Sushi ended in 2012. City staff previously said in 2017 that the building was expanded and renovated in the late 1980s, but was “beyond its useful life and its removal and replacement is the best economic option.”

Demolition and reconstruction of the pier beneath the building is currently expected to conclude by Memorial Day, which kicks off the area’s busy summer tourist season.

The total cost of the project is $98,700.

City spokesman John Pope said in a call Wednesday that the city’s tried in vain for a number of years to get a new tenant to occupy the space, but that “just the right deal” couldn’t be struck between city officials and operators for any number of reasons.

Workers dismantle the last wall panel of the restaurant.
Workers dismantle the last wall panel of the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“There’s logistical hurdles,” said Pope, adding that the location put it in a specific niche that high-end restaurants didn’t want to occupy.

That left it to sit unoccupied for the last decade.

“We’ve been hearing from the community: so, what’s going to happen?” said Pope.

Discussions on what to do with the vacant restaurant date as far back as 2015, when the structure was already documented as having been in less than stellar shape. By then, there were already reports of chipped wood, peeling paint, dry rot and water damage. Inside, both electrical equipment and the kitchen in a state of disrepair.

In 2017, the Newport Beach City Council submitted a development request to the California Coastal Commission to demolish the building and reconstruct another restaurant in its place with Bluewater Grill owners James Ulcickas and Richard Staunton.

Workers dismantle the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday.
Workers dismantle the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday. Demolition and reworking of the pier is expected to be completed by Memorial Day.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Plans for that restaurant fell through, leaving the fate of the building at a standstill until renewed interest by Councilwoman Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Noah Blom in the revitalization of both Newport Pier and nearby McFadden Plaza brought it back up before the Newport Beach City Council in October.

City officials describe it both as two of the busiest and highest profile places in the city. The pier itself, constructed in 1888, is the oldest of Orange County’s and is showing its wear and tear.

Demolition of the restaurant at the end of the pier is just the first step in a process to generally revitalize the area. City staff have also confirmed that the lifeguard headquarters, which was built in 1966 and last saw major rehabilitation in 1989, also needs updating.

Blom said at an October study session on the matter that there are a number of assets down in Newport Pier and McFadden Plaza, but that the age and state of them “does not suit who we are as a city.”

Concrete plans on how to redevelop the area, however, remain up in the air for now. Discussion of the pier’s future is expected to return before the Newport Beach City Council later this summer and by then, the restaurant at the edge of the pier will be long gone.

Neighboring Huntington Beach is also looking to make updates to its pier after its Ruby’s shut down in February last year.

Workers dismantle the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday.
Workers dismantle the restaurant at the end of Newport Pier on Thursday. Its last tenant left in 2012 after its lease ended, but the city hasn’t been able to place a new restaurant since.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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